Saturday, November 08, 2014


Winner of the 6th WOWOW Scenario Grand Prix, Kousaka Takahashi's Umoreru is a multi-layered drama examining the intrinsic value of one man's pursuit of the truth and the cost of exposing it. Packaged as a nifty character study flanked by a commentary on public trust and corporate responsibility, the story in itself is deceptively simple, but truly, it is bursting at the seams. Behind every incident and commonplace utterance is a mystery waiting to be unearthed, and it's up to the viewer to decide who is in the wrong and who's right. And at best, it's an evenly composed special that speaks of personal regret and corruption.

Umoreru finds its protagonist, Kitami Toru (Kiritani Kenta) settling into his new job at a ward office following a corporate misconduct exposé where he figured prominently as the whistleblower. Dubbed as a local hero but despised by his former co-workers, he's now ruminating the merits of what he thought at the time was a righteous act. His first assignment as a city official is to check up on a condemned house owned by an elderly woman named Kayoko (Midori Mako) who is said to have suffered a tragedy. For some unknown reason, Kayoko refuses to speak but has decided to hoard garbage on her property. After an ocular inspection, Toru is surprised to learn that his first love, Asao Yoko (Kuninaka Ryoko), is now a single mother who lives next door with a 13-year old son (Mochitzuki Ayumo). 

For its overall theme, the drama special challenges the wisdom behind the belief of the truth as a liberating force that brings about positive change. It essentially questions the value accorded to its pursuit and exposition as a necessary extension of what is deemed to be just by presenting viewers different instances that may argue for its suppression.

The story actually comes in two tiers, and as a springboard to the above premise, a scenario is offered---the most apparent one being a story of a man who has yet to come to terms with the consequences of his decision. Here, the writer levels good intentions and wide-eyed idealism against bitter pragmatism and harsh reality; first, in depicting the painful aftermath of the consumer scandal in which Toru was involved in and second, in reiterating that sometimes, there are just things that one is better off not knowing.

Toru is shown to be a man looking for ways and means to assuage his personal guilt and self-doubt. He's placed in a position where he's asked to make the same choice at work---when confronted by corruption in the selection of contractors---and his personal affairs---when indirectly asked to turn a blind eye to the commission of an unspeakable horror. Everything that he's lost and everything that he stands to gain boils down to a solitary plea to leave well enough alone. What makes this conflict particularly interesting is that the choice to be made will ultimately determine his true nature. This, after the fact that events have demonstrated that his moral compass has failed him before.

The second tier is slightly more elaborate than the first. It's the culmination of random images, seemingly unrelated events and offhand statements scattered all over this slow-simmering production. Umoreru for its first few minutes takes on the complexion of a political drama but while it has elements that refer to social issues, it's really more about the characters, their contrary point of views and individual motivations. 

The drama special takes on a cool, calculated visage. And although it carries a lot of weight, viewers that are used to fast-paced and stirring exchanges might find the show's slow countenance not much to their liking. Another thing to consider is that viewers are not made privy of its strong undercurrent until the last section of the show when the pieces fall together to reveal a story of two women and an ongoing conspiracy to cover up a crime. 

The understated performances of its cast match the overall tone of the drama, adding a malignant air to an otherwise abnormally languid atmosphere. A single look or a few choice words, carry such great import to the extent that the central mystery is made out to be more chilling if given further thought. As a whole, the writer's main gambit of confining the screenplay to a question of what lies beneath works, even though it's mockingly too literal in some respects. Nevertheless, still waters do run deep---don't let its placid exterior fool you. 


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